Founder’s Story with Jeremy Smith of SpotHero

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Jeremy Smith is one of the co-founders of SpotHero. SpotHero is an on-demand parking app & website that helps drivers find parking and reserve a spot with convenient garages, lots, and valets for up to 50% off the drive-up rate. They received $7M in funding from several VC firms including Chicago Ventures and Bullpen Capital. You can find them on iTunes and Google Play App Store.

RFZ: Can you tell us a little background about how you decided to start SpotHero?

Jeremy: The idea of SpotHero actually stemmed from my own personal problems.  I used to live in a Wrigleyville, which is located near the Cubs Stadium in downtown Chicago. I amassed literally thousands of dollars in parking tickets during game days, and I knew something had to be done.

RFZ: What was the defining moment while starting SpotHero where you had to carefully think about your monthly budget?

Jeremy: Luckily for me, I actually started saving money while I was in college.  I was always pretty conservative with money and never had a tendency to buy unnecessary things. After college, I stayed at my parents bedroom for about 1.5 years which allowed me to get the funds I needed to actually start a business.

RFZ: During the early stages of the business, were you paying yourself salary? If so, how did you manage to get by?

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Jeremy:  I wish! The early stage of the start-up was definitely the most stressful part. In order to stay lean, I actually rented out my bedroom on AirBnb and slept on my own couch.  We got into Excelerate Labs (which is now part of TechStars) and that’s when we were able to finally start paying ourselves a little bit of salary.  But even that in itself was very minimal.

RFZ: Did you do any odd jobs to make extra cash on the side?

Jeremy:  Oh my goodness.  I did everything that I could to make some extra cash on the side.  I was getting paid minimum wage at a pizza joint while my team and I were first starting the business.  Once the idea started to gain some momentum, I left.  Becoming an AirBnb host helped me offset a lot of my rental expense. I also did a lot of focus groups which paid about $100 for a few hours and worked at some of the big races such as the Shamrock Shuffle. This was all before the days that becoming an Uber driver or an Instacart delivery person were available.

RFZ: What are the top two money saving tips you learned while being an entrepreneur?

Jeremy:  This is a tough one, but if I had to give my top money saving tip it would be to try and do everything for free. I would find networking events in Chicago where they would have free food and take home any leftovers they would have. If my friends and I decided to have a night out, I would usually pre-game instead of wasting money on alcohol at bars. Every penny adds up at the end of the day.

RFZ:  SpotHero recently raised their Series A funding, what’s the single biggest tip you can give start-up founders on how to run a lean business?

Jeremy:  Money doesn’t grow on trees.  Just because you raise a nice bit of funding doesn’t mean you’ll be successful.  It only gets harder.  Raising money for us was just a means to an end…to continue to expand and scale into other cities.  It’s tempting to turn your office into a cool hip place, but if you’re buying random stuff for your office it’s just a total waste of money. For every purchase you make, just try to picture it as if its your own money.

RFZ:  Overall, how has becoming an entrepreneur changed the way you view money? How would you do things differently?

Jeremy:  It’s hard to earn money but really easy to spend money.  I look at money as a tool to get your objectives met.  It allows you to take certain risks. You have to be very cautious about it. If ou’re spending money without a lot of thought, it’ll go quick.  Allocate your money and always plan for the future.

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